Chemistry Professor Bruce Branchini specializes in the study of firefly bioluminescence
An Associated Press story highlighting Chemistry Professor Bruce Branchini's military-sponsored bioluminescence research has been reported by more than 300 media outlets, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Houston Chronicle, MSN Money, CNBC and Fox News. Branchini, the Hans and Ella McCollum '21 Vahlteich Professor of Chemistry at Connecticut College, recently received a $225,000 Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) grant to continue his cutting-edge research on bioluminescence, the process by which organisms efficiently convert chemical energy into light.*
"While it is a process of fundamental scientific importance, there are an amazing number of practical applications of this phenomenon that include: clinical assays for heart attack damage, therapeutic drug development, tests for extraterrestrial life and tests for bacterial contamination of food, just to name a few," Branchini has said. According to the Associated Press, possible military uses for bioluminescent technology could include creating biodegradable landing zone markers for helicopters and developing "friend vs. foe" identification markers and security systems.
Branchini has been investigating the basic biochemistry behind the phenomenon for 32 years. With the help of his Bioluminescence Research Group, he has developed novel methods for purifying the protein that catalyzes the light-emitting reaction and used synthetic organic techniques to prepare novel substrates for the firefly protein and substrates for a bioluminescent jellyfish, which emits blue and green light. Some of the basic science aspects of his research have been and continue to be supported by the National Science Foundation.
With his latest military grant, Branchini and his team are examining ways to mutate the green-glowing lightning bug protein into one that emits "far red" light, which Branchini explains is just off the spectrum of human vision. The grant allows Branchini to employ student researchers to assist him in the lab. Branchini takes great pride in mentoring young scientists and giving undergraduate students the hands-on research experience that they need to be successful in the field. In an address to students in 2003, Branchini encouraged all students to research with a faculty member. *This project is 100 percent federally funded.